by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Preached at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Scranton
on Ash Wednesday 9 March 2011
I heard it the other day. Someone said, “I think he colors his hair.” And there he was for all the world to see. A seemingly quiet, unassuming man whose ends were a sort of medium ash brown, and whose roots were as white as a newly-fallen snow in downtown Scranton. “I think he colors his hair.” There he was, unmasked, a man different from what he appeared to be.
You know that you can tell the truth, and you can use the truth to hurt people. That’s got to be sinful. And you can say out in the open what we all know to be true and to the detriment of the person involved. That’s got to be sinful, too. You don’t have to live very long or travel very far before you realize that most of us can observe, most of us can unearth, a lot of truth that is hurtful. We can wield the truth as if it were a weapon. But in most of our lives there is a lot of truth that we aren’t facing. There’s a lot of truth about ourselves that we aren’t coming to terms with. That’s got to be sinful, too. And it would be hurtful for anyone to urge that truth upon us. Anyone would be devastated to be told that he is doing something in some area of his life that is very like dyeing his hair.
Today is the day that begins the season when we try to undo a self-deception or two, when we do something very like letting the roots grow out. We let vanity go, and we let God do the make-over. We put ourselves in God’s hands, in the hands of Reality Itself, and ask that the truth remake us, reshape us, so that we may more closely resemble God’s truth that lives in us already. It is the season when we accept that it is God who made us and not we ourselves. It is the season when we face our dependence on God for our creation and preservation, as well as our redemption and salvation. To return to that reality, to that relationship with God, we do what we have to do to keep it whole, to keep it intact. And what we do may concern that funny business about the money. It may have to do with pretending to pray and pretending to serve God. It may have to do with exercising our bodies or our minds. It may have to do with that person not our spouse whom we have on the side. It may have to do with eating more rather than less if we haven’t been able to accept the waistline God has given us. It may have to do with tiny and numerous selfishnesses so petty as to seem unmentionable but gathered together may be enough to weigh us down, keeping us from rising to new life in Christ.
Whatever it may be, the point is to let God, God’s reality, in, into our lives. This is the day for a right beginning, a new start, confident that the God who made us is the God who wants to see us redeemed and wants to see us saved. Whatever we do, whatever we want, we can let the reality that is God in. And that requires honesty, an honesty disarming in its force and keenness. We have to put away the dye, and take on the truth; put away the hypocrisy, and take on humility; put away the self-congratulation, and put on the praise of Christ.